Date of Award

Summer 2023

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Allen M. Omoto

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jason T. Siegel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Adam R. Pearson

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

John T. Jost

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2023 Michael E. Knapp


Helping behavior, Prosocial emotions, Social status, System justification

Subject Categories

Social Psychology


Helping behavior is proposed to be a universal experience where a wide range of behaviors are used to benefit another person or group (Aknin et al., 2013; Nadler, 2002). Often these behaviors are motivated by positive values or emotions (Dovidio et al., 2012). However, when social status is salient, the members of a group may shift their motivation to help others from recipient benefit to retaining power and status for themselves instead (Nadler & Chernyak-Hai, 2014). The intergroup helping as status relations (IHSR) model proposes that higher status group members are motivated to retain their groups’ higher status through specific helping behaviors directed toward those of lower status when the hierarchy is threatened (Nadler, 2002; Nadler & Halabi, 2006). According to the model, higher status group members are likely to give dependency-oriented help which solves the problem without transferring skill, rendering the lower status group members dependent in the future. Conversely, autonomy-oriented helping behavior that helps the recipient learn how to solve the problem and decreases dependency is often avoided being given by higher status group members so they can retain their position of power. Previous research has demonstrated that the motivation for maintaining status occurs as a function of system justification beliefs, such that the status quo should be defended, and social change avoided (Jost, 2018). Prosocial emotions were proposed as a way to disrupt this justification process (Thomas et al., 2009; Wakslak et al., 2007). Specifically, moral outrage, comprised of anger directed at systems, may attenuate the effects of system perceptions on system justification beliefs. As such experiencing moral outrage about socioeconomic inequality in the US should result in both decreases in dependency-oriented helping behavior and increases in autonomy-oriented helping behavior. The present two-study dissertation put forth a model investigating the moderating effect of moral outrage on intergroup helping intentions and behavior directed toward lower status groups. In Study 1 ( N = 376), participants from an online research platform who identified as “above average” in subjective social status either experienced a moral outrage manipulation or neutral control condition and rated their perceptions of system legitimacy and stability, system justification beliefs, and helping intentions and behaviors towards people of lower socioeconomic status. In the moral outrage condition, participants read a short vignette on the negative effects of the current socioeconomic conditions in the US, while the control condition was a general report on the fishing industry. Results from Study 1 indicated that the moral outrage manipulation did not affect perceptions of system legitimacy, system justification beliefs, or helping intentions and behaviors on a statistically significant level. Although these results did not achieve statistical significance, people in the moral outrage condition did report trends in the direction hypothesized for four of five outcomes. Additionally, a two-factor model of system legitimacy and stability was confirmed using factor analysis. Next, Study 2 ( N = 634) used a bolstered moral outrage manipulation under the same procedure and assessed a multigroup structural model of the relationships between the same variables. The main hypothesized model assessed if moral outrage moderated the relationships between perceptions of system legitimacy and system justification beliefs as well as the relationships between system justification beliefs and helping intentions and behaviors. Analyses of data did not support this model. However, the analysis of an exploratory model which included perceptions of system stability as an additional main predictor of system justification beliefs found differences between the moral outrage and control condition. In essence, compared to those in the control condition, those in the moral outrage condition had a stronger negative relationship between stability and system justification beliefs, and in turn beliefs had a negative relationship with helping intentions. Moral outrage influenced higher status group members’ perceptions of the stability of economic conditions in the US and justification beliefs, but not as intended. Moral outrage enhanced some aspects of the justification process through defending the system, rather than attenuating it. Moral outrage is an emotion which may have unintended effects when not carefully channeled and in the current research resulted in bolstering justification beliefs and lower helping intentions towards those of lower status (Rushton & Thompson, 2020). As it related to system justification theory and IHSR, moral outrage appears to reinforce some aspects of the motivational efforts of higher status group members to use helping situations to retain their higher status positions (Jost, 2018; Nadler, 2002). Although research has demonstrated moral outrage as one of many prosocial emotions, a more channeled approach at using outwardly-facing prosocial emotions is warranted in future research to understand how emotion may be beneficial as well as detrimental to social change interventions in higher status groups.